Benedict Spence

How advertisers are capitalising on the culture wars

It’s still only January but already we’re on our third advert-related outrage of the year. To the Army’s ‘Snowflakes’ poster campaign and HSBC’s bold assertion that Britain is not an island, we can now add Gillette’s ‘the best a man can be’. We’ve come a long way since the greatest affront to British audiences was KFC’s clip of call-centre workers singing with their mouths full, which garnered over 1,500 complaints in 2005. 

But is this a surprise? Not really. The culture wars have bubbled to the surface of society in the last decade in a flurry of placards, dyed hair and high-vis vests. No longer the preserve of internet chat rooms and gender studies departments; now outrage is mainstream. The Me Too movement, Black Lives Matter, Brexit and the Trump election campaign, whether the heralds of change or the change itself, have upended the landscape. 

If you’ve been sucked into the maelstrom of Twitter, you’ll know that the culture wars are hell. No one is spared; political parties, religions, institutions, celebrities, members of the public, multinational companies and small Christian bakeries alike risk the wrath of the mob. It’s a societal crisis driving people apart. But this culture war isn’t bad news for everyone. To some, it provides an excellent opportunity. 

The advertising industry has taken this further than most. There are companies that take risks to get attention. BrewDog, for example, played that game for a long time, sending rude letters to industry standards boards and trying to open a bar straddling the US/Mexican border to flout immigration laws.

Pepsi were also among the first to attempt to capitalise on the culture wars, with a protest advert featuring the model Kendall Jenner. The firm was accused of  demeaning protests in a bid to use them for profit.

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